The Three R’s of Community Development

“And then it dawned on me. This church was operating out of a personal-salvation, church-centric theology. No wonder the community hadn’t been impacted by these new neighbors! Their primary strategy was to invite the ‘locals’ to church, where they could hear and receive the gospel message, engage in good biblical learning, and be nurtured in the life of the body. Becoming neighbors and providing programs were simply means, as these relocaters saw it, to the ends that lost souls would be saved and the church would grow.”  Robert Lupton in Charity Detox Chapter Seven

Church and Politics

Another week, another election. Only this morning do I realize that I said absolutely nothing about it from the pulpit on Sunday. I meant to. I just forgot. How could that possibly be the case when I spent the greater part of last Tuesday (from about 3 p.m. on) with nothing but the election on my mind? I was all nerves, caught up in the moment by moment drama as election results began to pile up from around the nation.

It is tricky talking politics as a United Methodist pastor. It is tricky because we have die-hard Republicans, die-hard Democrats, and everyone else in-between sharing pews together on Sunday morning and sharing life together throughout the week. We do not always agree about how things should be done!

The real trouble comes, however, when regardless of partisan loyalty, we read the Bible in such a way that we fail to see that the political realm is as equally a realm of faith as the personal realm. To say “the church should stay out of politics,” is to gloss over huge portions of scripture and  to misunderstand the concerns of the God of the Bible. It is to argue that the gospel has no claims on our communal life, which is all that politics really is.

The Kingdom of God

Jesus came to earth preaching good news to the poor, healing the sick, casting out demons, and restoring outcasts to life in the community. His actions were explained by his announcement: “The kingdom of God has come near.” (Mark 1:15) All of Jesus’ deeds took place in a colonized nation under the ultimate political control of a king, or more accurately, a Roman emperor. The chief priests words at Jesus’ trial ring in our ears here: “We  have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15) For Jesus to use the language of “the kingdom of God” to explain his ministry cannot be divorced from the political. Kingship, kingdoms, kings, all these are political concepts, not to mention the fact that Jesus was tortured and killed by the political establishment.

So what does this mean for us? I believe that Robert Lupton is right. Reneighboring, or any of our congregational efforts to work for the transformation of our communities, simply won’t take deep root in our churches as long as our basic gospel beliefs don’t include both personal and communal dimensions. As long as we believe that salvation is purely personal, we won’t organize ourselves for a real impact at the societal level.  Our beliefs shape our behavior.

I believe God calls the church to work for the common good in the kingdoms of this world. This is a belief that runs deeper than political party affiliation and counter to any identity that isn’t found in the kingship of God alone. But what I believe is not the point.

What do you believe that Christian faith is about? Is the gospel good news for individuals alone? Or does God call the church into the political realm, the realm where resources are divided, policies are set, and laws are made and upheld?

What we believe will be what we do.

3 thoughts on “The Three R’s of Community Development

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  1. If we are in this world, but not of this world, we need to be aware and involved in all that goes on around us– including politics. Many people confuse what “separation between church and state” really means.

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